Friday, April 15, 2011

Just Sit There

It looks like the Jet Set trip in Prague is shaping up to an all around good experience for those that are there: doing church on the Vltava, hanging out in European coffee shops (harrumph!), and that thrill of disorientation of being in a strange place.

What is most frustrating for those who can’t be there in person is the lack of context to all those wonderful pithy statements that are coming out on twitter. A personal favorite so far has been: “Don’t just do something, sit there!”

As with any short statement, it could probably be taken several ways and perhaps it could be misunderstood or taken too far. However, when taken as (I believe) it was intended, there are not many more helpful statements for churches today, trying to engage the culture around them.

The typical, American approach to anything tends to be pragmatic and based on the principle that hard work always pays off in the end. The problem with that approach is that it is often wrong, especially in spiritual matters. God’s way is often counter-intuitive, and success from a Christian perspective comes when things are accomplished that only God can do. Therefore, to do something expecting results because it has worked at some point in the past for someone in a different context is na├»ve, and to think that success is dependent on how “hard” or how much we do something is self important.

The biggest problem with a “tried and true” approach to church planting in a cross-cultural context is that it often completely ignores the context. Bringing spiritual truth into a cultural dialogue is part hard work, but it is greater parts God dependent and art—the art of interpreting how one meaningfully speaks into a given culture.

So, all that to say, the first thing anyone should do when they engage a new context is sit. Observe. Pray. Learn. Do not assume that since you have been “called” to a context your qualifications are what caused you to be called there. God usually picks the unqualified to do His tasks. Your part is to learn and be ready to act when your eventual opportunities are revealed.

All of the proceeding also applies as a good first step for people in churches trying to engage the culture right outside their walls.


  1. What would you say to someone who after sitting, waiting, praying, listening and trying to learn believes what they are led to implement isn't classified as missional by some?

  2. That is a good question, Kyle.

    My first reaction, and this is just my personality, would be to say that I wouldn't care. If I felt my direction was Biblical (not traditional), communicated what I was actually trying to say in a way that the culture could understand, and what God was clearly telling me to do, then I would go for it. After all, in many ways Missional is whatever we define it as and I like my growing definition best.

    However, the one problem I could see here is someone who said that God was telling them to do things the way they had already always done it in their old context. My usual approach to team members who want to take that approach is to encourage patience and more sitting.

    Our biggest problem is usually that we feel like we must do something NOW. We forget that the Biblical examples we have usually had periods lasting years where God prepared them for the task at hand.

    My personal opinion, as a person who grew up in a context that made me a cultural chameleon, is that it takes around two years of living in a culture to begin to get it. For a person who has only lived in one culture the reality is that it will take even longer.

    That does not mean that someone will have to wait two years to begin to have a impact, but they should look for local cultural experts with whom to work. Those experts should preferably not be from the local expression of church either, because they are usually caught up in tradition as well. The best partners are local non-believers or brand new believers.

    Well, that is just the tip of an iceberg of thoughts born out of my experiences.

    Anyone else have any thoughts?

  3. Thanks. Good things to think about.


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